Solution still sought for I-70 ski traffic

No, we’re not there yet. Moreover, we won’t know for some time how to improve the drive across the Continental Divide on Interstate 70, much less pay for what looks to be a multibillion dollar project.

The Colorado Department of Transportation is working on a traffic and revenue study for the frequently crowded stretch of I-70 between the ski areas and Denver to determine what kinds of solutions are available and affordable, said CDOT spokeswoman Amy Ford.

Officials with the state agency and a company that submitted an unsolicited proposal to the transportation department for improvements to the road have visited local governments and organizations with updates, Ford said.

For the moment, however, the department’s priority is the $106 million expansion of the Twin Tunnels near Idaho Springs and paving the shoulder of the eastbound lanes of the highway between Empire and Idaho Springs for use as an express toll lane during high-traffic times.

That project took a major step forward Monday when blasting was completed on the expanded eastbound bore of tunnel, Ford said.

The I-70 expansion process sprung from an unsolicited proposal by Parsons Corp. in 2011, for a $3.5 billion improvement.

No small part of the traffic and revenue study is the revenue portion, Ford said, noting that the project could be dependent on finding a private concessionaire that would operate the road much as U.S. Highway 36 is near Boulder.

Completion of the traffic-and-revenue study is 12 to 18 months off, Ford said.

That would set the stage for a determination about what kinds of improvements could be made and how to go about paying for them, Ford said.

“That stretch of road is extremely significant to western Colorado and to commerce going to and coming from the metro area,” said Bonnie Petersen, executive director of Club 20, the West Slope advocacy organization.

It’s important to residents, businesses and visitors, Petersen said, so making Interstate 70 work well is in the best interests of the entire state.

“But until we find revenue sources,” Petersen said, “I’m not sure they really have a practical, plausible solution at this point.”

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